Aiken County sheriff’s Sgt. Chris Chavous knows firsthand how critical incidents can affect those in public safety.
In December 2006, Sgt. Jason Sheppard was struck by a vehicle and killed as he directed traffic at an industrial fire. Chavous assisted with efforts to save Sheppard, and then had to command the scene as the on-duty supervisor.
Eight months later, Cha-vous was involved in an incident in which a suspect stabbed fellow Deputy William Tucker.
“It really affected me,” said Chavous, who is also a volunteer firefighter with North Augusta Public Safety. “The two incidents combined took a toll on my marriage.”
He and his wife, Melanie, who is a North Augusta Public Safety officer, attended a support program offered through the South Carolina Law Enforcement Assistance Program. SCLEAP is a partnership between the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division; state Department of Natural Resources; state Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services; and state Department of Public Safety. It is a free program, thanks to donations and government funding.
“It’s a peer-driven support program to take care of police officers – state, federal and local – involved in critical incidents like shootings, line-of-duty deaths and other incidents of that nature,” he said of SCLEAP.
Chavous later trained as a peer counselor and has worked with the program in that capacity since 2009.
“I travel mostly around this side of the state to various incidents to assist officers in getting through the incident on the initial side of it,” he said.
Through that capacity, he saw a need to expand programs like SCLEAP, so he came up with the idea for Support 1, a nonprofit organization that seeks to support all first responders, including law enforcement, firefighters and EMS personnel, with training and funding to address needs before, during and after critical incidents.
“It’s not intended to take the place of anything,” he said of creating the organization. “It’s just another program.”
The organization, founded by Chavous, his wife and fellow North Augusta Public Safety volunteer firefighter Michael Ford, was launched Jan. 1.
When Chavous approached Ford with the idea, he was eager to help.
“He shared his vision with me, and I was immediately on board,” he said. “I have always had a huge respect for public safety personnel, and with my involvement with the department, its like a perfect fit. I told him I would be glad to do anything he needed me to do.”
In the “before” stage, the organization helps agencies with awareness and stress management by educating them about what a critical incident can be, the impact it can have and helping to provide agencies the funding for its first responders to participate in a program, obtain training or assist with organizing training needs.
After a critical incident, Support 1 offers supplemental funding for the agency’s use to address needs of those affected by the incident, which is often not included in an agency’s normal operating budget, Chavous said.
Funds will go directly to the agency, which will determine at its discretion the best way to use the funds to address the needs that arise when a critical incident occurs, Ford said.
Support 1 will offer funds to agencies to help first responders participate in peer-support programs.
“If you put a group of policemen and firefighters in a group with just them, they’ll talk amongst themselves,” said Ford. “If you sit them down in front of a stranger in an office somewhere, it’s pretty intimidating. But if you can sit down with your peers and talk about it, that’s when the healing happens.”
Support 1 is starting with local agencies, but the vision is for it to grow to help agencies throughout the country.
The organization’s first fundraiser is a golf tournament planned for April 30 at the Midland Valley Country Club, and sponsorships are available. The Web site www.support1.org, will have an e-store where people can purchase items with the organization’s logo and the proceeds will benefit the organization. Businesses, groups and individuals may also help by making donations, he said.